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10 Real-life Serial Killer Mysteries That Have Never Been Solved
True Murder Cases included in this volume;
Zodiac: America's most enigmatic serial killer. Zodiac killed at least 5 and carried on an extended letter writing campaign, taunting the San Francisco police and daring them to try and stop him.
The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run: Not even celebrated crime fighter Eliot Ness could put an end to the Butcher's deadly murder spree.
The Monster of Florence: Il Mostro stalked the lover's lanes and campsites around Florence for over two decades, killing and harvesting body parts.
Jack the Ripper: The granddaddy of all serial killers. Saucy Jack terrorized London's East End for three blood-drenched months in 1888, leaving a trail of mutilated corpses in his wake.
The Axeman of New Orleans: A homicidal maniac who reeked havoc on New Orleans during the early part of the 20th century and seemed to bear a particular grudge against Italian grocers.
The Boston Strangler: Albert De Salvo took the fall while the real Strangler, slayer of as many as 13 women, walked free.
The Frankford Slasher: A lethal ripper who stalked the streets of Philadelphia during the 1980's killing and mutilating his victims.
Bible John: A Bible-sprouting psychopath who raped and strangled three young women in 1960's Glasgow. But was he eventually caught for another murder?
The Servant Girl Annihilator: A deadly serial killer who started by targeting Austin's servant population, before setting his sights on the city's social elite.
Jack the Stripper: The Stripper bamboozled London's police in the 60's committing a series of strangulation murders that have never been solved.
It started on a cold Friday evening in December 1968. David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, had told their parents that they were going to attend a Christmas concert. Instead, they drove to a stretch of Lake Herman Road, near Vallejo, California, a well-known make-out spot. They’d been parked there less than an hour, when someone pulled in behind them, driving a light colored Chevrolet. The driver exited his vehicle and walked towards Faraday’s Rambler. Then, without warning, he produced a .22 pistol and began firing.
The killer started from behind the vehicle, shooting out the rear window, then the left rear tire, then coming around to the front left as the teenagers scrambled out of the passenger side door.
Jensen managed to get out of the vehicle and started running towards the road, but she’d made less than 30 feet when she was shot in the back. The killer then shot her five more times, apparently as she lay on the ground. Faraday didn’t even make it that far. He was killed by a single bullet, fired at close range into his head. His body was found beside the right rear wheel.
The entire episode was over in seconds and the killer fled the scene immediately. Just minutes later, another driver arrived on the scene and found the bodies of the two teenagers. She rushed to call the police, but by then it was too late. Jensen and Faraday were already dead.
A massive investigation was launched, led by Solano County Det. Sgt. Les Lundblad, and supported by half a dozen local law enforcement agencies. It turned up nothing. Neither did a reward fund, set up by students at the victims’ high schools, help in finding the killer. There were no witnesses, no apparent motive, no suspects.
Six months after the Faraday / Jensen murders, Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin, 22, and Michael Renault Mageau, 19, were parked at the Blue Rock Springs Golf Course in Benicia. The golf course was four miles from where the previous murders had occurred. At around midnight, a car, a brown Ford Mustang or Chevy Covair pulled up behind the couple's vehicle. The driver turned off his headlights and sat there in the dark, with the car engine idling. A moment later the car pulled away and drove back towards Vallejo at high speed.
But five minutes later, the car was back, this time parking behind Ferrin’s vehicle blocking the exit. A man got out of the car and approached. He was carrying a bright flashlight, which blinded Mageau and Ferrin and prevented them from seeing his face. Believing him to be a police officer, Mageau reached for his I.D. He’d barely moved when the man raised a gun and fired five rounds in quick succession. The first shots hit Mageau in the face and body, the bullets fired at such close range that they tore through his flesh and entered Ferrin.
Mageau managed to get into the back seat as another bullet hit him in the left knee and the attacker then turned the gun on Ferrin hitting her once in each arm and in the back. The killer then walked back to his vehicle, but returned when he heard Mageau cry out in pain. He fired two more shots at each victim, then turned and walked casually away.
A moment after he fled the scene three teenagers pulled into the lot and found the grievously wounded couple. Several police cars and an ambulance were soon on the scene. Mageau and Ferrin were evacuated to Kaiser Foundation Hospital, where Mageau was immediately rushed into surgery. Darlene Ferrin was not as lucky. She was pronounced Dead on Arrival.
Michael Mageau was later able to provide a description of the killer. He said the man was about 5-foot-8 and heavyset, with a large face.
At 12:40 that same night, a call was placed via the operator to the Vallejo Police Department. The caller's voice was mature and without a discernible accent, and he spoke evenly, as though reading from a script.
“I want to report a double murder,” he said. “If you go one mile east on Columbus Parkway to the public park, you will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a 9 mm Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Good bye.”
The call was traced and found to have come from a pay phone on the corner of Tuolumne Street and Springs Road, just a few blocks away from the Vallejo Sheriff's Office.
A few weeks after the latest murders, on Friday, August 1, 1969, the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle and Vallejo Times-Herald each received an almost identical letter, purportedly from the person responsible for the attacks. Also included was a mysterious cipher, one-third of the puzzle sent to each newspaper. The author demanded that the letters be published on the front page of each newspaper by that Friday afternoon. If his demand was not met, he said, he’d go on a killing spree and kill a dozen random people over the weekend. The letters were signed with a crossed-circle symbol.
The authorities weren’t taking any chances. The letters along with the ciphers were published as demanded. However, the police decided to try and draw the killer out and perhaps lure him into making a mistake. In order to do this, investigators stated publicly that they believed the letters to be a hoax. It worked. On August 4, 1969, another letter arrived at the San Francisco Examiner.
The letter began with the chilling salutation that would become the killer’s calling card:
“This is the Zodiac speaking...”
It was the first time the killer used the name Zodiac. He went on to provide details about the crimes that had not been released publicly, thereby establishing his authenticity. He also stated that there was a clue to his identity in the ciphers he’d sent with the previous letters.
Frantic efforts were currently underway to decipher those puzzles, but when the answer came it was not a police code-cracker who solved it, but a high school teacher and his wife. They presented their solution on August 8, 1969, having been able to decode all but the last 18 letters.
The message read:
I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE IT IS EVEN BETTER THAN GETTING YOUR ROCKS OFF WITH A GIRL THE BEST PART OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND THEI HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR ATOP MY COLLECTIOG OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE EBEORIETEMETHHPITI.
The cipher did not, as promised contain any clues to the killers identity, although amateur sleuths and code-crackers have since claimed that the letters can be rearranged to spell “Robert Emmet the Hippie.”
Zodiac’s next attack occurred on Saturday, September 27, 1969, at Lake Berryessa in Napa County, some 60 miles northeast of San Francisco. College students, Cecelia Ann Shepard and Bryan Calvin Hartnell, were picnicking at Twin Oak Ridge, a peninsula on the western shore of the lake. It was late afternoon when they spotted a man walking towards them, later described as 5-foot-8 to 6-foot tall, dark-haired and heavyset, wearing glasses and dressed in dark clothing.
As the man got closer, he suddenly ducked behind the cover of some trees. When he emerged again, he was just 20 feet away and had slipped on a strange four-cornered hood, black in color, with a bib that fell almost to his waistline. Embroidered on the bib was a crossed-circle design. He had a pistol in his hand and a long knife hung from his belt.
The man told the terrified couple that he was an escaped convict from Montana and that he wanted money and their car to drive to Mexico. Hartnell immediately handed over his keys and all the change from his pockets. The man pocketed the change and dropped the keys on the picnic basket. Hartnell then engaged the man in conversation, in an effort to calm him down, and they spoke for a few minutes. Then the man removed some clothesline from his belt and ordered Shepard to tie Hartnell up. Hartnell tried to reason with him, but the man became angry and shouted: “Get down! Right now!”
Shepard then tied Hartnell up as the man had instructed, after which she herself was bound. Hartnell would later say that the man appeared nervous, his hands shaking. “I'm going to have to stab you people,” he said.
“I couldn't stand to see her stabbed,” Hartnell responded. “Stab me first.”
“I'll do just that,” the killer replied.
Hartnell was stabbed six times, Shepard ten, the weapon used, a double-edged blade approximately 12-inches long. Leaving them for dead, the killer then walked to Hartnell’s car, parked nearby. Using a black magic marker, he made the following inscription:
He also drew the crossed-circle emblem that would feature on his subsequent letters.
As he had after the previous attack, the killer drove to a pay phone and placed a call via the operator to the police. The Napa Police Department switchboard logged the call at 7:40 pm, a little over an hour after the attack. “I want to report a murder - no, a double murder,” the killer said. “They are two miles north of Park Headquarters. They were in a white Volkswagen Kharmann Ghia.”
“Where are you calling from?” the switchboard operator asked.
“I'm the one that did it,” the caller said, before dropping the receiver and walking away.
Bryan Hartnell would recover from his wounds, but Cecelia Ann Shepard would succumb to hers two days later. Zodiac would never refer to this attack again.
On the night of Saturday, October 11, 1969, San Francisco cab driver Paul Stine picked up a fare at the corner of Mason and Geary Streets in Union Square. The passenger asked to go to the Presidio, at the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula. However, the cab traveled just one block before pulling to the curb at the corner of Washington and Cherry Streets. Here, the passenger shot Stine point blank in the right side of the head. He then got into the front seat, removed the dead man's wallet and keys, and cut a large piece from the back of his shirt which he soaked in blood, taking it with him as he walked slowly north on Cherry Street.
Three teenage siblings standing at a second floor of 3899 Washington, saw the killer cut Stine's shirt, then exit the cab and wipe down the door handles and parts of the cab's interior. The boys suspected something amiss and called the police, who logged the call at 9:58 pm and immediately dispatched a cruiser. However, the description of the killer was incorrectly broadcast as a black male. As a result, when patrolmen Donald Foukes and Eric Zelms noticed a heavyset, white man walking casually east on Jackson Street, they made no effort to apprehend him.
Two days after the murder of Paul Stine, the Chronicle received a letter from Zodiac claiming responsibility for the murder. A swatch of Stine’s bloody shirt was enclosed. “This is the Zodiac speaking,” the letter began. “I am the murderer of the taxi driver over by Washington St + Maple St last night…”
He went on to criticize the police, saying they would have caught him if they’d searched the area properly, instead of “ holding road races with their motorcycles seeing who could make the most noise.” He then issued a chilling threat. His next victims, he said, would be a busload of school children.
The Zodiac case had by now begun to garner massive media coverage, and tips as to the killer's identity started coming in from as far afield as Houston, Atlanta, and St. Louis. At the same time, homicide detectives along the West Coast began to look at their unsolved cases for possible links to the killer. One of those was the brutal killing of Cheri Jo Bates in Riverside, California.
Bates had been slashed and stabbed to death outside the Riverside City College Library on the night of Sunday, October 30, 1966. The killer had apparently disabled her car by pulling out the distributor coil and condenser. Then he waited for her to return, whereupon he stepped forward like a knight in shining armor and offered to help. After pretending to tinker with the engine he declared that he couldn’t start the vehicle and offered a ride, which Bates accepted. He then somehow lured her to a darkened area between two houses, which was where her body was found next morning. She’d been slashed across the back, chest and throat, the latter wounds running so deep that they almost decapitated her. She had also been choked, beaten, and slashed across the face.
There were plenty of clues left at the scene. The police found a man's Timex watch close by and a heel-print from a man’s shoe. There was hair, blood, and skin tissue found under the victim’s fingernails and unidentified palm and fingerprints found in and on her car. Then there were two separate witnesses who reported hearing an "awful scream" at around 10:30. This tied in with the time of death estimated by the coroner and was regarded as a significant clue by investigators. The library closed at 9:00, and if the murder occurred at 10:30 that meant Cheri Jo Bates had spent an hour and a half sitting in the car with her killer. That suggested that he was known to her and, given the brutal ferocity of the attack, the police believed that the killer might be a spurned ex-boyfriend. They were confident of an early arrest.
But a month passed with no arrest and very little progress in the case. Then, on November 29, 1966, two copies of the same anonymous letter were delivered to the Riverside Police and the Riverside Enterprise newspaper. Entitled “The Confession,” it contained a graphic description of the Bates murder, including some details that had not been made public. In other key aspects, though, the author was wrong. Nonetheless, the letter got investigators no closer to solving the murder.
Six months after the death of Cheri Bates, the police, Riverside Press, and the victim's father were each sent near identical copies of another letter. This one was written in pencil on lined notepaper and contained a unique “signature,” a letter Z joined with a numeral 3. The letters read as follows:
A couple of weeks later, a janitor at the Riverside City College Library discovered a poem written on the underside of a folding school desk. The content seemed to refer to the Bates murder but as with the other clues, this one led nowhere.
The Bates murder has never been solved and continues to divide opinion. Riverside PD maintains that a local man was the key suspect, not the Zodiac. Other investigators, both professional and lay, insist that Cheri Jo Bates was Zodiac’s first victim.
On October 22, 1969, a caller identifying himself as the Zodiac called the Oakland Police Department and demanded time on the Jim Dunbar TV talk show with either F. Lee Bailey or Melvin Belli, both famous defense lawyers. Belli agreed to appear and, during the show someone, claiming to be Zodiac, did call. However, it was later determined that the call was a hoax.
The next two Zodiac letters arrived at the Chronicle on November 8 and November 9. The first contained a 340-character cipher. The second was a seven-page missive, which included another piece of Stine's shirt. In this letter, Zodiac claimed that police officers had stopped him on the night of the Stine murder and had questioned him for three minutes before letting him go. The SFPD vehemently denied this. The letter also contained a schematic for a “death machine,” which was to be used to blow up buses.
Zodiac’s next communication was a Christmas card sent to Melvin Belli’s home on December 20, 1969. In the card the Zodiac begged Belli for help, with the words:
“Please help me I can not remain in control for much longer.”
Most of the investigators working the case saw this for what it was, another attempt by Zodiac to garner media attention. However, Belli took the message seriously and made full use of the free publicity it afforded him and his legal practice with a number of very public attempts to reach out to the Zodiac. The Zodiac never contacted him again. In fact, nothing more was heard from the killer for three months.
On the evening of Sunday, March 22, 1970, 23-year-old Kathleen Johns was driving to meet her mother. Her ten-month-old daughter, Jennifer, was also in the car. Along a stretch of Highway 132 near Modesto, a man in a light-colored car started honking his horn and blinking his lights at her. Driving alongside he indicated that there was a problem with one of her wheels. Johns pulled over to the side of the highway and the man pulled up beside her. He said that her wheel was wobbling and offered to fix it for her. He then fetched a lug wrench and got to work. In fact, there was nothing wrong with the wheel at all, and rather than tightening the lugs, the man loosened them. When Johns tried to drive off, the wheel came off. The man was not far ahead and now backed up and offered a ride to the nearest gas station. Johns gratefully accepted.
However, she was soon to regret her decision. The man continued west along 132, but it soon became clear that he had no intention of taking her to a gas station as he passed several without stopping. Terrified for her safety, and that of her daughter, Johns endured an hour and a half of aimless driving through the city of Tracy and its environs. She tried to engage the man in conversation but he was mostly silent. “Do you always go around helping people?” she asked at one point. “By the time I get through with them, they won't need my help,” the man responded. She began to realize that if she didn’t try to escape both she and Jennifer were going to be killed. Finally, she saw her chance. As the man brought the car to a halt at a stop sign, she grabbed Jennifer and jumped from the car. She ran across a field and up an embankment, taking cover in the shadows. Depending on which version of Johns’ subsequent story you believe, the man either waited in his car for a few minutes or came looking for her with a flashlight. Either way, he eventually gave up and drove off.
Johns was picked up by a passing motorist, who took her to the police station in Patterson. As she entered she saw a Wanted poster with a composite sketch of the Zodiac and insisted that he was the man who had abducted her. Meanwhile, a call went out to locate her car. A Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy found it where it had been left, burned out and still smoldering - the abductor had returned to torch the vehicle.
The abduction attempt marked the last time anyone ever reported seeing the Zodiac. However, his letter-writing campaign would continue for some time. The next missive arrived at the San Francisco Chronicle on April 20, 1970. It included a 13-character cipher, a diagram of a bomb he planned to use to blow up a school bus, and a statement that he was not involved in the February 18 bombing of a San Francisco police station. The letter ended with a note “Zodiac=10, SFPD=0.” (Zodiac was indicated not by the word, but by the now familiar crossed circle.) The police believed that 10 indicated the number of people the Zodiac was claiming to have killed.
Just over a week later, on April 28, 1970, a card arrived at the Chronicle with the words, “I hope you enjoy yourselves when I have my BLAST.” The writer threatened to use his bus bomb if the Chronicle failed to publish the April 20 letter, detailing his plans to blow up a school bus. He also requested that people start wearing Zodiac buttons.
Another letter to the Chronicle, received on June 26, 19, contained a 32-letter cipher. The author said he was upset that no one was wearing Zodiac buttons. He also took credit for another shooting, which investigators believed to be the murder of police Sergeant Richard Radetich, a week earlier. However, eyewitnesses to that murder reported that the shooter had been a black man.
Also included was a map of the Bay area, supposedly giving clues to a bomb that he’d buried, which was due to detonate in the fall.
This letter was signed “Zodiac=12. SFPD=0.”
The next letter arrived at the Chronicle a month later. In it, the Zodiac claimed responsibility for abducting Kathleen Jones four months earlier.
Zodiac was on a roll now - the next letter arrived just a couple of days later on July 26, 1970. In it, he included a twisted version of the song “I've Got a Little List” from the Gilbert & Sullivan musical, “The Mikado.” The stylized lyrics described how he intended torturing his slaves. He concluded with an update on the “score,” Zodiac=13, SFPD=0.
Three months passed before the next Zodiac communiqué arrived on October 5, 1970. It consisted of a card with letters cut from magazines and newspapers. Thirteen holes were punched through the card, thought to represent the number of victims. This card was originally thought to be a hoax but would later gain credence among Zodiac researchers.
Two days later a card, ostensibly from the Zodiac, was sent to Paul Avery, the Chronicle’s main reporter on the case. It included a threat to Avery's life. Days later Avery received a letter urging him to investigate the murder of Cheri Jo Bates as part of the Zodiac series.
In March 1971, Zodiac spread his wings, addressing a letter to the Los Angeles Times. He claimed he was writing to the Times because, “They don't bury me on the back pages.”
In the letter the Zodiac gave the police credit for connecting him to the Bates murder, but insisted that they were only finding the “easy ones” and that there were “plenty more out there.” The letter concluded with the score, SFPD=0 Zodiac=17.
He returned to familiar territory on March 22, 1971, sending a postcard to Paul Avery in which he claimed responsibility in the disappearance of a nurse, Donna Lass, who’d gone missing from the Sahara Hotel and Casino. Some investigators believed that the postcard was a forgery, perhaps an attempt by the real killer to make the authorities believe Lass was a Zodiac victim. However, certain idiosyncrasies point to its authenticity. The use of punch holes was a Zodiac trait, as was the misspelling of Paul Avery's name as “Averly.”
This postcard was the last communication received from the Zodiac for three years. By the time the next letter arrived on January 29, 1974, he’d dropped his familiar salutation, “This is the Zodiac speaking.” The cross-circle symbol signature was also gone.
In this letter, he describing the movie, The Exorcist, as “the best saterical comidy that I have ever seen.” He also included part of a verse from “The Mikado,” and a hieroglyph-type drawing. He threatened to “do something nasty” if the letter wasn’t published and concluded with the score, “Me-37 SFPD-0.”
On May 8, 1974, the Chronicle received a letter from a “concerned citizen” complaining about the violence in the movie “Badlands.” Although the Zodiac did not identify himself as the author, many Zodiac experts believe the tone of the letter and the handwriting was unmistakably that of the Zodiac.
Another disputed letter arrived on July 8, 1974. It complained about Chronicle columnist, Marco Spinelli, and was signed, “the Red Phantom (red with rage).” Police Detective David Toschi sent the letter to the FBI Lab for analysis. They responded that the letter probably came from whoever had written the Zodiac letters. There would be no further communication from the Zodiac for four years.
On April 24, 1978, a letter arrived at the Chronicle purporting to be from the Zodiac. The letter was given to reporter Duffy Jennings, who forwarded it to Detective Toschi, the only SFPD Officer still working the Zodiac case.
Toschi sent the letter to John Shimoda of the U.S. Postal Service crime laboratory, and Shimoda came back verifying it as genuine. However, four other experts declared the letter a hoax and even suggested that Toschi had written it himself.
Genuine or not, the Toschi letter was the last communication from the Zodiac. Why, exactly, he chose to stop taunting the police is as much of a mystery as his identity.
But who was the Zodiac? There is no shortage of suspects, more than 2, 500 interviewed over the course of the investigation. Yet one name dominates the suspect lists, the favorite of many investigators, as well as Robert Graysmith, author of the seminal book on the case, “ZODIAC.”
Arthur Leigh Allen was a Vallejo resident and convicted pedophile. He first came to the attention of the Vallejo Police Department in early October 1969, and was later named by two separate people (a former friend, and a former cellmate) as the Zodiac. Yet the case against Allen disintegrates under closer scrutiny. In fact, much of the information linking Allen to the case has been proven to be either untrue or highly circumstantial. When you consider that Allen was too tall to match eyewitness descriptions; that he had solid alibis for many of the crimes; that he passed a grueling 10-hour polygraph; and that DNA evidence lifted from the Zodiac letters was categorically proven not to be from him, it is difficult to sustain the belief that he was the Zodiac.
Allen died in 1992, but the case remains unsolved and is likely to keep true crime aficionados intrigued for decades to come.
Serial Killers Unsolved includes 9 more fascinating unsoved serial murder cases